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Another special object of attention in Mr. Holbrook's mode of procedure, was a practical course of study in elementary geology. His practice was, in introducing this branch, to “begin, continue, and end" with excursions and field-lessons, in all cases in which such a course was practicable; and many adults, in various parts of the United States, still remember with pleasure their participation in the benefits of such rambles in their school-days. In city schools, with pupils too young for the length of walk required for study in the field, his plan was always to teach with specimen in hand, and, in all cases, to encourage his classes to make collections, and contribute to the formation of school-cabinets. With a view to this result, he, for successive years, organized an extensive arrangement for the exchange of local collections of specimens; and, for the purpose of extending the moral interest of such collections, he enlarged his plan so as to embrace, in the system of school exchanges, specimens of drawing, penmanship, and needle-work by the pupils of schools in all parts of the Union. The effect of this part of Mr. Holbrook's plans was undoubtedly to "provoke unto love and good works” among the juvenile givers and receivers; although it gave rise to "skeptical doubts" in some minds as to the result of "
so many irons in the fire."
An excellent feature of Mr. Holbrook's plans, and one of unquestioned benefit, was that of suggesting and procuring the introduction into schools of the illustrative apparatus which bears his name, and which his son continues to furnish to schools throughout our country. Mr. Holbrook, by bis success in attracting the attention of teachers to the importance of using visible illustrations in all forms of instruction which admit of their use, rendered an invaluaable service to the improvement of education, and contributed, in no slight degree, to the diffusion of those views which, of late years, have led to the introduction into our higher seminaries of those more complicated and costly illustrations which advanced instruction requires.
The main object of interest to Mr. Holbrook's own mind, was the establishment, throughout the United States, of popular associations for the diffusion of scientific knowledge connected with the useful arts. The plan and operation of a national system of regularly organized associations, furnished with “a central heart, conducting arteries, and returning veins," securing the circulation of a vital current of science throughout our country, was the favorite theme of his thoughts and the unceasing aim of his endeavors, during the greater part of his life. To bring his views and purposes to actual accomplishment, he traveled for successive years, from place to place, founding branches of what he fondly termed the “ American Lyceum;" and many of these establishments remain as memorials of his benevolent enterprise, and still wear the designation of "lyceum," although the idea of connected ramifications was never perfectly realized.
Mr. Holbrook organized and conducted the first lyceum, so called, in his own town, in the State of Connecticut, with a class of mechanics and farmers, some of whom took part personally in the exercises of their weekly evening-class. Many towns and villages in New England owe, primarily, their weekly intellectual treat of a popular lecture to the genial spirit and persevering labors of Mr. Holbrook, the father and founder of the lyceum system. The influence which he has thus exerted on the intelligence, the tastes, and the habits of New England, will long continue, we may trust, to cause his name to be held in grateful remembrance.
To the earnest spirit and persevering endeavors of Josiah Holbrook, the city of Boston owes, in part, one of its most excellent institutions—the Lowell lec
tures, from which source, as a perennial fountain, the streams of scientific instruction annually issue, for the benefit of thousands—not only of the citizens, but of the many visitors from various portions of New England, who are attracted, in not a few instances, by the high advantages for intellectual culturo and enjoyment which that noble-hearted city affords, alike to the denizen of her municipal circle and the stranger within her gates. In the winter of 1828-9, Mr. Holbrook came to the city of Boston, for the double purpose of rendering service to the cause of education, by his customary visits to the schools, and of establishing a lyceum association, with a view to the effect which such an arrangement might exert on other towns accustomed, perhaps, to follow the lead of Boston, in matters of intellectual and social relation.
The English Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge had, at the time referred to, called forth every where the sympathy and zeal of all friends of education and of popular progress. Mr. Holbrook, accordingly, having suhjected his plan to such modifications as the circumstances of a city like Boston seemed to require, and having laid his views before men of influence in the placeamong whose names were found, as ever, auspicious in such undertakings, those of Daniel Webster and Edward Everett, and others of like spirit—a public meeting, honored by the presence of such men, was held, which soon eventuated in the formation of the Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, whose plan and proceedings suggested, it is well known, to the discerning mind of the late John Lowell, the idea of the admirable arrangement for the course of gratuitous public lectures which bears his honored name.
Nor can we here justly pass by the Boston Lyceum, formed under the influence of those views which originated with the mind of Mr. Holbrook, although submitted to those modifications which an independent organization in a populous city naturally required.
The success which Mr. Holbrook's endeavors met in his visits to the different parts of New England, with a view to the establishment of lyceums, induced him to continue his exertions in this connection and that of visiting schools, and to extend them into the Middle States. There he found a still wider field of action in his favorite purposes; and, in some places, the effect of bis labors was to awaken an intense interest in the subject of popular education, where it had subsided or slumbered, and in some instances where the subject had been met in the spirit of unmitigated hostility. Such was the case in some portions of the State of Pennsylvania, where a vigorous movement in favor of education was in progress in certain quarters, but a bitter opposition was manifested in others.
Having secured the hearty co-operation of an influential licentiate of the Dutch Reformed Church, who recognized in their true light the purposes of Nr. Holbrook, he made an extensive tour in the interior of the state, presenting his views of practical popular education with such success that, ere many months had elapsed, a teachers' convention was held, in the full spirit of such a gathering, and to the great delight of the people generally, in Lycoming county-previously designated, in a popular phrase, as "bear” county. In this region, some of the former inveterate enemies of education were heard exclaiming, "Yes, if this is education, we want it. This will make our sons better farmers; and they will know, when they are selling their farms, whether they are selling coal, and lime, and iron, too."
Still ardently pursuing his original plan of a national association for the diffusion of science among the people, Mr. Holbrook spent the latter part of his life in the District of Columbia, where he occupied himself in preparing the way for the consummation of his cherished purpose of establishing in Washington city the head-quarters of a national lyceum. With this view, he devoted some time to the examination of the scientific institutions of the city, and the inspection of the condition of agriculture in the vicinity. In connection with the latter subject, he prepared a series of articles on agricultural chemistry, for the “ National Intelligencer," which were read with great interest throughout the wide sphere of the circulation of that excellent paper. Occasionally he diversified his pursuits hy excursions, undertaken for the purpose of exploring the geology and ascertaining the mineralogical wealth of the adjacent regions of Virginia.
On one of these tours, when boating not far from Lynchburg, tempted by an apparently valuable specimen, imbedded in the steep, rocky bank of the creek, he climbed to obtain it, and, trusting for support to his hold of a jutting portion of rock, it unfortunately gave way; and, whether owing to fatal hurts in his fall or his inability to swim, he was drowned in the deep pool below.
In his death, the great common cause of popular education met with an irreparable loss, which, every year, is felt more deeply as his wide views and disinterested life come to be understood and more justly appreciated, and the teachings of Agassiz have led instructors to feel more deeply the great value of the study of Nature, as the divinely-appointed school of the young mind.
Teachers, too young to have held intercourse with Mr. Holbrook, sometimes ask the question, Why was he not more successful in his purposes-why was be not more adequately supported in his noble endeavors ? The answer is easy to those who knew him—a quiet, retiring, unostentatious man, little attentive to the conventional circumstances of arbitrary social life, somewhat negligent of appearances, never caring to assert himself, strong in his conscious good purposes, enthusiastic in the contemplation of a great plan of practical utility, utterly indifferent to "filthy lucre," walking twenty miles on a stretch for the "largest liberty” of geologizing or botanizing, making all his experiments on metals with his own hands in the blacksmith's shop. On one occasion, the writer of this communication met him issuing from such a scene in the streets of Brooklyn—his working-coat both shabby with age and badly torn; his face begrimed with smoko and soot, and his hands in the same condition; but his eye gleaming, from under its heavy, massive eyebrow, with delight at the result of his operation, and his whole soul buoyant with the amount of business then daily dono at his School Exchange Office in Canal Street, New York-packages arriving daily from the furthest east, west, north, and south. As he left the ferry for his office, be pursued his way along Broadway, utterly unconscious of the state of his outward man, but evidently in an inward "glory and a joy" as deep-felt as that of the peasant-poet in his raptures of inspiration.
The unworldly spirit of Mr. Holbrook, his shyness in society, the plain style and tenor of his daily life, and his entire absorption in his peculiar plans and purposes, all laid bim open to misapprehension; and to some, who formed their conceptions of the man from first impressions or slight acquaintance, it was matter of surprise to be informed that he possessed the advantages of liberal education, and was a respected graduate of Yale College. Had he presented himself in certain circles among us, with the prestige of an unpronounceable foreign name, and the insignia of some European scientific institution, his views and aims would probably have met with a flattering recognition. It pleased him better to be what he was—a plain, straightforward man, a practical teacher of childhood and youth, and an unpretending friend of popular progress. The publicity which his peculiar position involved, and which some who did not know the man attributed to a love of notoriety, was an unavoidable, not an intentional, result of the course which he had to pursue, working out-for the most part, alone and unassisted—a scheme for the general good, and of which he necessarily became the sole advocate and representative.
From his zealous activity in introducing into schools the use of the illustrative apparatus which now bears his name, and from which it was supposed by some that he derived a large personal share of profit, pecuniary motives were sometimes attributed to the mainspring of his ceaseless exertions for the accomplish. ment of his public purposes. To those who knew him intimately, and who daily observed his stoical indifference alike to personal enjoyment and personal advantage, the imputation of such motives was an utter absurdity. But had he even levied a liberal contribution from the extensive sale of the various articles which were so generally adopted in consequence of his references to their use, it would have in no respect differed from any other usual, fair business transaction. To all considerations of personal advantage, however, he was only too indifferent. It was his part to pass through life with “clean hands and a pure heart," and self-denying devotion to the good of others. His brightest moments of enjoyment were those in which a child, confiding in his sympathy, would come up to him, holding up a wild-flower, and questioning him about its nature or its name; or when an intelligent teacher would manifest a warm interest in the interpretation of Nature, as a part of her own daily duties to her juvenile dependents. Let one of these faithful guides of the young mind speak the experience of
The writer of this article quotes her words without her knowledge or permission, but with no violation, he trusts, of the privacy of an humble daily life of useful toil. The note from which the following is an extract was addressed to that indefatigable laborer in the service of education, the Rev. B. G. Northrup, state agent of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Referring to a lecture by that gentleman before a teachers' institute, the writer proceeds: "Permit me, a stranger, to express to you the surprise and pleasure with which I listened to the just and true tribute of respect paid by you to the memory of the beloved and lamented Holbrook. I think it will be pleasant to you to learn that his labors were not wholly lost. You expressed a fear that there were none now who carried out his plan of 'object teaching.' I know of one who, through a long experience in teaching, has always devoted some part of every day to this and similar exercises, and who was first taught it by Mr. Holbrook himself, more than thirty years ago, when a little girl in the public school in Greenfield, Mass., a school which Mr. H. visited and instructed, and imbued with his own love of Nature in all its forms—plants, minerals, and shells; stars, storms, and sunshine.
"I doubt not there are many others from that same town-school-which, in due time, sent out a score of teachers—who have also been practicing on those principles and that manner of teaching. We have all taught in the shade:' the great world has never heard of us. But the children who love us, and who love our lessons in thinking,' or lessons on objects'—as we sometimes call them—will never forget to observe, and notice, and compare, or forget the difference between eyes and no eyes.' We have governed our schools by love and confidence rather than by fear, and all, (as far as I have learned) have had great success in gaining the affection and esteem of our pupils. I have had over a
thousand different scholars under my care; and I have reason to think there are few that do not look back with interest and pleasure on the days spent in my school.
“We all were aided in our youthful efforts in teaching by a meeting of the teachers' institute, held, I believe, in 1851, at Greenfield, Mass., and conducted, (if my memory serves me right,) by the Hon. Horace Mann, assisted by Mr. Holbrook. At that meeting, lessons in astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry were explained and illustrated, and a new method of teaching the alphabet explained by Mr. Mann, which I have always used, and which I consider superior to any I know of. The lessons in geometry and mathematical geography I have always been obliged to teach by rough models, of our own manufacture."
To these recollections and appreciative estimate of the subject of this memoir, we append an eloquent tribute to his educational services and personal character by Hon. Samuel S. Randall, superintendent of schools for the city of New York.
As early as 1826, Mr. Holbrook laid in Massachusetts the foundations of that system of lyceums and literary and scientific associations which has since pervaded our land, and produced a rich harvest of knowledge; and at about the same period gave the first impulse to that great legislative movement, by which state geological and mineralogical surveys were instituted, and the immense physical resources of our national borders explored and illustrated. These important results originated in the instructions gratuitously communicated by him to classes of children whom it was his custom, during his whole life, to attract around him by his interesting, simple, and familiar expositions of natu. ral history. Collecting specimens of the various minerals, metals, and fossils of every neighborhood he visited, and rendering himself acquainted with its topography and physical resources, he taught his delighted pupils the elementary principles of science, stimulated them to investigate nature for themselves, to make collections of all the varieties of rocks and mineralogical specimens which the region afforded, to execute simple maps and drawings of the towns and counties of which they were residents, and of such other objects as were most familiar, and to institute a system of exchanges with the children of other neighborhoods, by means of which a community of interest and 'exertion might be secured and perpetuated.
These specimens and drawings soon attracted the attention of parents and others interested in scientific pursuits; they were produced for exhibition at school examinations and public gatherings, and found their way to legislativo committees, who failed not to perceive their eminent utility, and their ready adaptation to practical purposes. Associations for scientific improvement were at once formed among the young, and organized, under the supervision and auspices of this indefatigable philanthropist, into lyceums and institutes. Members of the legislature were furnished with county and state maps, the product of young hands and the offering of young hearts; and the project was forthwith conceived of a general and accurate survey of the state, with a view to the development of its resources and an exposition of its capabilities. The example of Massachusetts, in this respect, was speedily followed by the adoption of a similar resolution in our own and other states, and the results of these wiso measures are now beforo us in a series of volumes, the product of the most eminent and distinguished scientific authors of our age and country.